By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Well…it’s been quite a week. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to discuss something – anything – other than the election. Luckily, there are two events that have my attention – Veteran’s Day and Dash the Wonder Dog’s fourth birthday. On the surface there wouldn’t seem to be any connection between those two events but this week I discovered that my beloved pet is the Bob Hope of dogs, ready to entertain the troops at a moment’s notice. As you may recall, Dash began his working life last spring when he got a job at a local care center. Each week he trots into the facility like he owns the joint and cuddles up with the residents. He shamelessly begs for treats, which many of them readily provide. He is especially fond of people who have poor hand-eye coordination because the floor around their bed or wheelchair is a veritable treasure trove of crumbs and shattered crackers. Fortunately for Dash, such people are in plentiful supply, plus they have the added attraction of fawning over him as he roots around for their droppings.
This week Dash was lucky enough to call on several men who were celebrating Veteran’s Day. Most of them are former dog owners so they especially appreciate being able to pet and hold Dash. I have observed that most of the veterans’ walls are adorned with photos of themselves in uniform, American flags, and commemorative awards and medals. This week the center gave them special recognition at a Veteran’s Day celebration, replete with music from the ’40’s and a special memento plaque. One of my favorite veterans is a 97-year-old man whose mental acuity puts me to shame. The first time we visited I remarked on a photo of him in a WWII fighter plane. “Oh yes”, he said, “I was 19 years old when I enlisted. It was a good time to be 19 because I was too young to have the good sense to be scared“. That said, he wheeled around and pulled a sheet of paper out of his drawer. On it was a typed list of the FIFTY missions that he flew in Europe. That is an extraordinary number of missions – the maximum allowed by the Air Force at the time. He is still quite proud of his accomplishment, as well he should be. Last week I noticed that he had the book “Killing the Rising Sun” on his bed. There is a picture of General MacArthur on the cover so I mentioned to him that my husband and his family were rescued from a Japanese internment camp by Mac Arthur. “Humph,” he said, “I think there’s only one word for MacArthur – pompous!”. As I said, he’s as sharp as a tack. We discovered last summer that this wonderful man and I share a birthday. I can only hope that portends I will be as engaged and dynamic as he is at 97.
Also residing in the care center is a retired four-star general and a man who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I love talking with these men, not only because they love being entertained by Dash, but because I have such unbridled admiration for their service and frankly, the dedication of their entire generation. I read just enough sociology books to be boring at parties, and one recent phenomenon that worries me is the rise of the “cupcake” or “snowflake” generation – young people who are easily offended, shrink away from any opinion that differs from their own, and seek the constant reassurance of hearing “good job”. I think about the “Greatest Generation” by comparison, whose work ethic and approach to life was forged by the Great Depression and World War II. Most, like my own parents, didn’t have the money for college. Their families “made do” during the Depression and when war broke out they volunteered and did whatever they could to contribute to the war effort. That generation knew a lot of sacrifice and hard work. They didn’t expect anything to be handed to them and learned how to face adversity with renewed resolve. The World War II vets are dying at a rate of 1100 a day, and it is estimated that by the end of the decade almost all of them will all be gone. We will be the worse for it. So it was a privilege this week to wish the men in the care center a happy Veteran’s Day – we need to cherish them while we still have them.
As for Dash – we will celebrate his special day on Wednesday with treats and – if my husband isn’t looking – a cute little birthday hat. I can’t believe how quickly the past four years have passed. Our lives are forever changed by having this sweet and loving dog in our lives. He makes us smile every day and his kisses, which he so lavishly dispenses, act as a salve to mend any cracks in our hearts. I have to say he really is a wonder dog. Last week a nurse at the care center asked us to visit a new patient in the memory unit. Dash crawled up on her bed and she stroked and cooed for five minutes. When we left the nurse said it was the first time in three days that the woman had smiled. In short, he makes everything – and everyone – better. Maybe I should send him to Washington.